Why Flying International First Class Doesn’t Make Sense


Aside from the rare International First Class mistake fares, I believe that purchasing or redeeming miles for International First Class doesn’t make sense. Ask yourself these few simple questions: Do you really need that Flagship Suite? Do you really need that lay flat bed? Do you really need to take an onboard shower in an A380? Do you really need that Sparkling Dom or Krug as a pre-departure beverage? Do you really need that caviar or handwritten note by the flight attendant? If you’ve answered yes to any of these, then please go ahead and flame me.

I’m completely satisfied with Business Class where I don’t have that privacy swivel. I’m not allergic to my neighbors. Yes, I might end up in a middle seat in a 2-3-2 configuration in J, but those are #firstworldproblems. I’m actually perfectly happy with an angled flat bed and don’t need a completely lie flat bed. I know some people can’t sleep in an angled flat, but those are #firstworldproblems. I don’t need to take an onboard shower when I can shower at the lounge or hotel before or after my flight. I don’t care about the brand of champagne or wine when I’m flying and I’m happy with the house brand. I’ve never had caviar and it doesn’t even look appetizing. Spare me the handwritten note since it will be thrown away after I sort through my belongings at the end of my trip.


I’ve never flown in International First Class and will probably never will in the near future (unless I get op-upped). As a result, I save miles along the way and use them towards future Business Class redemptions. Yes, I will be doing you a favor by not taking your First Class award inventory, but go ahead and spend your precious miles.


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24 Comments on "Why Flying International First Class Doesn’t Make Sense"

  1. Whoa. You’re going down a slippery slope there. Pretty soon you’re going to say we should redeem for economy in order to take 2-3x as many flights for the same number of miles spent. No thank you. The answer is always to hack/manufacture spend/earn more. Show me the money baby!

  2. I strongly disagree. You can’t make a convincing case if you’ve never tried the product. There are all sorts of reasons international first class is worth it:

    1) Lounges with showers and spas and gourmet meals.
    2) Excellent food (the best Japanese meal of my life was in first class on ANA. And I used to live in Tokyo, so I am no stranger to Japanese food.)
    3) Increased personal space does matter on extra long flights.
    4) Best entertainment options–see above re: extra long flights.
    5) Extra baggage allowance.
    6) More civilized boarding and deplaning. Separate security lines and a head start through immigration.
    7) More attentive service onboard (I mean fast and friendly service, not handwritten notes.)
    8) More sanitary. You share bathrooms–and cabin air in general–with fewer people.
    9) Extra leg room and walking area helps you avoid DVT.

    • Jen,

      1) I have lounge access with Oneworld Emerald & Priority Pass. Yes, I won’t get the massage.
      2) Business class can be excellent food as well
      4) I bring my own IFE
      5) I don’t check in any bags
      6) I usually sit in the bulkhead of Business Class so I’ll deplane after the last person in F
      7) I don’t really need the attentive service. I can just hit the flight attendant call button if I need anything

  3. It’s not a matter of C/F difference in miles but judging the product individually. A lot of C products could be F and vice-versa.

    For example, I was reading one of your recent trip reports in AA business class. That product looks horrendous. I wouldn’t waste ANY miles on that.

    Same with Lufthansa C. Their old C is so bad, it’s not worth it. The new F? Absolutely.

    Now, do we need any if this? Anyone could argue no but if were traveling and have the means to go in a premium cabin, I’ll choose it every time over coach.

  4. Not only does it depend on the product (what you get), it depends on the program you’re redeeming miles out of.

    For instance, the difference in miles for a one-way first class redemption between the US and Asia is just 10,000 miles. You can do that via the Atlantic or the Pacific.

    I’d pay 10,000 miles to experience Lufthansa’s first class terminal and Mercedes tarmac transfer, and I’d happily do so for that plus a massage in Thai’s spa in Bangkok (fly, say, BKK-FRA-IAD). And for caviar on two fights and Dom on Thai. And two new sets of pajamas, and a Rimowa amenity kit (that I could eBay if I really wanted to, effectively selling the extra 10,000 miles — making enough to cover the ‘cost’ of those miles on the amenities I sell alone).

    Whether business vs first makes sense depends on the product, the price, and the alternative. EVA Airways business vs United First? I’d take business. But that doesn’t mean redeeming for first class doesn’t make sense most of the time when doing so out of a program with reasonable pricing for first.

  5. @Gary – Nice example. I just used the miles for that same type of example with LH. Definitely worth it.

  6. I think it depends the airline. This past summer I flew ORD-FRA in United First and while the experience was “pleasant” … for a 9 hour transatlantic flight I would have been just as happy with United Business since their flatbed seats are pretty good. On the other hand, flying FRA-ORD I was able to change my ticket to Lufthansa and found the whole flight experience (service, separate bed on the upper-deck of the 747-400, etc.) was pretty incredible and spending time in the Frankfurt First Class Terminal was just plain fun! 🙂 In that case, I thought he premium for the First Class ticket was completely worth it. Besides, I flew LH First just to get a FCT Rubber Ducky anyway 😉

  7. I’m with Jamison and agree that it’s not worth it — for some people (for me and him, obviously). When I fly, it’s to get from Point A to Point B and I don’t need champagne or pajamas to get there. Obviously other people are looking for something more than just transportation. It’s not worth the upcharge for me (even at “just” 10,000 miles one-way over business class).

    • @Becky – even if you value the Bangkok airport spa experience at zero (it’s a pretty good massage) and you value the Mercedes or Porsche transfer across the tarmac from the First Class Terminal to your plane at zero (it’s pretty cool), my point above is that you can eBay your amenity kits and pajamas and recoup better than 1.5 cents per point. Put a different way, it’s FREE (comes at no net cost unless you value the miles at a high enough price point that you’re regularly buying miles straight from the airline).

  8. Meh. 6 or 7 hour TATL from the east coast I am perfectly content in Y. Even longer flights if I can get an exit row that stil is fine for me. Just get me to point B is all I care about

  9. I fly in economy lounghaul reasonably often. C/F is better but Y is fine for what it is. If the flights are the focus of the trip then go all out and have fun. If you’re looking to travel more and enjoy the destinations then worrying about if you’ll get the right amenity kit to sell on eBay after the trip is probably rather far from top of the priority list.

    • Agreed! Growing up as the child of an airline employee, I have flown internationally for the last fifty years, mostly in Economy but in the front as well. Those years of flying non-rev before the FF programs existed are long gone, and I mostly travel on paid tickets in Economy. Taking my first international award trip after getting involved in this points collecting hobby, we opted to go Economy again, opting for more trips over a few hours of comfort. We lucked out with bulkhead and exit rows, travel companions who made the trip quite pleasant, friendly and helpful FAs – all in all a good decision. Reading all the blogs can make you think that Business or First are the only way to go. But they are not! As my points balances increase I may re-evaluate but I know I will always see flying primarily as a way to get from here to there. And hotel points as a way to have a roof over my head for free!

  10. Sometimes I like to grab a sandwich at a deli.

    Sometimes I like to go out to an expensive restaurant with exquisite cuisine, fine wine, relaxed and elegant ambience, and impeccable service.

    The same distinction applies to business vs first class. Is it a “waste of points” to fly in F? Depends on what you want: To get from point A to point B in reasonable comfort? Or a luxurious start and finish to a blow out vacation?

  11. A little disappointed by the actual post…I thought we would get an analysis of the cost (extra points needed for F instead of J; or needed $ to manufacture spend), and benefits of F over J…you know, why int’l F doesn’t make sense.

    I think Gary’s comments make more “cents.”

  12. Agree with @David. Not how I was expecting this article to go either. I was really hoping for an in depth analysis, not just a list a things that I don’t “need” while traveling. And traveling is not always about what you need or don’t need. Flying economy will get you everything that you need. Business and up is all about want. And sometimes, I want more than Business. Does it make it wrong?

    @gary, your comment was great. That’s why you’re the guru.

    And @Jen had a good point. Can you really properly review something if you’ve never tried it? Go Boston!

  13. Everyone has their own preferences and value assignment for experience. I prefer business class when I do long haul redemptions. I don’t need (nor do i want) the “extras” of First class as you mention -i bring my own food (food allergy), entertainment (rarely use IFE) and am low maintenance on board. I value the added leg room to stretch (yes prefer flat bed) and the semi private area. for me I have a regular spa at home and donate my amenity kits so I’m just thrilled for a better seat to get me somewhere good –

  14. ive tried all classes. a fancy plane seat is STILL shittier than a queen-sized bed at a cheap motel. its just makes people feel fancy…a fallacy. there is a big advantage to bidness & first class…saving time at the airport, outside of the place

  15. Wife and I are happy to fly in First on Asiana LAX-ICN for the additional 5k United miles each we were quoted 🙂 (agent made a mistake and charged us only 5k instead of 20k each for the additional – so not going to complain!)

    • Oh yeah, and Asiana LAX-ICN is on 747-400, and I’ve never sat UNDER the pilots before, in the nose of a plane. So really looking forward to that!!

  16. AA gives you only a reclining seat in Business Class to Europe.

  17. silver springer | September 22, 2013 at 8:05 pm | Reply

    Understand and generally agree but an occasional splurge either in points or dollars can be so much fun!Using AA points for F on CX and getting a reasonable F fare auh to IAD on EY( Also included business from MLE) was a terrific way to end a trip to Maldives

  18. 10,000 miles manufactured cost you 10 minutes and $15.80 or a couple of days ($2,000 per day) and then just $4.90 LOL

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